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The South Yorkshire Folk, Roots and World Music Festival
Just a hop, skip and a jump from Doncaster Railway Station stands one of the town's most popular pubs in terms of the diverse music it promotes. The Leopard, on the corner of West Street and St Sepulchre Gate West, seems to have survived whilst other surrounding buildings have not, which is largely due to the pub's impressive facade, its popularity amongst both young and not so young alike and its continuing endeavour to stage a wide variety of music events throughout the year. This afternoon, the South Yorkshire Folk, Roots and World Music Festival was held at the venue, which ran for eight hours over two stages, featuring a selection of diverse acts from both the UK and further afield. During the day no less than thirteen acts performed on two stages; one being a specially erected marquee to the rear of the pub and the other being the upstairs function room, which regularly hosts multi-genre concerts throughout the year.
The two opening performances kicked off at 2pm prompt, with the Canadian duo Madison Violet, who to my knowledge were making their first ever appearance in the town, taking to the stage in the bright and breezy outdoor marquee. Singer-songwriters Brenley MacEachern and Lisa MacIsaac, who formed Madison Violet back in 1999, delighted the audience with their mature songs and delicate harmonies, prompting discussions of whether the bar had maybe been raised a little too high for all the other acts to follow during the course of the day, songs such as Small of My Heart, Ransom and the gorgeous Crying. With Lisa playing guitar, fiddle and mandolin, not forgetting the stomp box at her feet, Brenley alternated between two vintage guitars, whilst delivering her own songs in her distinctive gruff voice. Meanwhile, upstairs on the contrasting darkened acoustic stage, singer-songwriter Edwina Hayes played an intimate performance with a set of familiar songs from her repertoire.
The musicians involved in today's festival mingled freely with their audiences as if it were a private party of friends. Between sets, some casual banter ensued as CDs were being signed, whilst burgers and beer were being served in the marquee. The Lincolnshire five-piece Band from County Hell kept the music going, with their own brand of rogue folk and battered bodhrans, which seemed to fit in with the spirit of the afternoon. Upstairs a gentler approach was being pursued by both Lucy Marshall and Chris Cleverley, whose respective sets featured, amongst their own original material, one or two well known folk club songs such as The Parting Glass, Who Knows Where the Time Goes and a rather tasty arrangement of the old Nic Jones classic Barrack Street.
It has to be said that the festival could have been better attended, but with it being in its infancy, the performers and audience alike seemed to accept that the small turn out was one of the things a new venture has to bear. The organisers may have been the most concerned but it didn't show; the smiles remained on the faces of everyone taking part, all of whom did their utmost to see the day through. Perhaps the upstairs acoustic stage was the worst hit by small numbers, but again, the performers who played up there gave it their all, including Strummin' Steve Jackson, the three-piece band Merlin's Keep and West Yorkshire songsmith Roger Davies,whose engaging set featured some of his most celebrated songs, Huddersfield Town and Brighouse on a Saturday Night included.
Throughout the day and into the evening the music continued with performances by the all-female folk trio Said the Maiden, the Ric Sanders Trio, who performed an entertaining set of good time numbers such as San Francisco Bay Blues as well as the familiar Allman Brothers instrumental Little Martha, and an appearance by Barnsley-based BBC Folk Award nominated duo Gilmore and Roberts, whose performance coincided with the unofficial launch of Katriona and Jamie's brand new live album In Our History.
As dusk descended upon Doncaster, there were two more bands to play on each of the two stages, effectively bringing the festival to a close. Whilst the five-piece Lincolnshire country blues and ragtime outfit Itchy Fingers provided a feel-good closing performance in the marquee, the Winchester-based Polly and the Billet Doux brought some of their own very distinctive country, blues, soul and gospel music to the acoustic stage. The four-piece band, which consists of vocalist Polly Perry, guitarist Andrew 'Steeny' Steen, bassist Dan Everett, whose double bass clearly indicated which band he plays in and finally drummer Ben Perry, were not only on their usual good form, but were probably also on their best behaviour as half of Polly's Doncaster-based family were in attendance; a sort of family gathering all round.
As The Leopard quietened down for last orders and the last of the festival revellers dispersed, Polly Perry could be seen wandering along St Sepulchre Gate West under the streetlights, most likely coming down after her band's energetic performance, chilling on a calm September evening. I spent my entire youth just half a mile from this street, a road I have walked along thousands of times and here was the singer from a band I admire, decades on, treading the same old path, connecting past and present and reminding me once again of the value of music and the value of my home town.